Financial stress may lead to physical pain in later years

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  • A study found that financial strain can lead to physical pain later in life
  • The study focused on married couples who experienced financial problems in the early 1990s 
  • The researchers found that physical pain can lead to further strain because of medical bills


Financial stress can impact adults' physical health nearly 30 years later, according to new research in Stress & Health.

The researchers focused on individual biopsychosocial processes that lead to physical pain as a rare health condition.

Carrying out the investigation

Researchers used data from 508 rural American husbands and wives for the study. The participants were observed between 1991 and 2017.

The participants experienced financial problems associated with the late 1980s farm crisis.  Most of them were above the age of 65, and had been in their early 40s when experiencing financial stress.

The scientists assessed the pain experienced by the couples, linking it to the years they were going through financial stress. They took concurrent physical illness, family income and age into consideration as part of the study.

Financial pain turns into physical pain

The study results show that the couples who were in financial difficulty in their mid-life were more likely to experience physical pain in their later years.

The authors found that financial difficulties in the early 1990s translated into physical pain nearly three decades later.

"Physical pain is considered an illness on its own with three major components: biological, psychological and social. In older adults, it co-occurs with other health problems like limited physical functioning, loneliness and cardiovascular disease," says study author, Dr Kandauda Wickrama, in a news release.

The study demonstrates that financial strain influences physical pain – and that physical pain can, in turn, transform into financial stress through additional healthcare costs.

A public health concern

The researchers explain that that stressful experiences like financial strain erode psychological resources like a sense of control.

This then activates brain regions sensitive to stress, causing pathological, physiological and neurological processes that lead to health conditions like physical pain, physical limitations, loneliness and cardiovascular disease.

"In their later years, many complain about memory loss, bodily pain and lack of social connections. Nearly two-thirds of adults complain of some type of bodily pain, and nearly that many complain of loneliness. That percentage is going up, and the health cost for that is going up. That is a public health concern," says Wickrama.

The study's findings, therefore, suggest that effective intervention and prevention programmes should focus on family financial stress in the early years of adulthood and the maintenance and development of adults' sense of control. 

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